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A cheaper drive to "cool" fuels

June 20, 2013 — University of Delaware chemist Joel Rosenthal is driven to succeed in the renewable energy arena. Working in his lab in UD’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Rosenthal and doctoral student John DiMeglio have developed an inexpensive catalyst that uses the electricity generated from solar energy to convert carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, into synthetic fuels for powering cars, homes and businesses. 

The research is published in the June 19 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Gold and silver represent the “gold standard” in the world of electrocatalysts for conversion of carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide. But Rosenthal and his research team have pioneered the development of a much cheaper alternative to these pricey, precious metals. It’s bismuth, a silvery metal with a pink hue that’s a key ingredient in Pepto-Bismol, the famous pink elixir for settling an upset stomach.

An ounce of bismuth is 50 to 100 times cheaper than an ounce of silver, and 2,000 times cheaper than an ounce of gold, Rosenthal says. Bismuth is more plentiful than gold and silver, it is well distributed globally and is a byproduct in the refining of lead, tin and copper.